Tuesday, November 7, 2017

ShadowJack

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ShadowJack - First Bloom - A Chronicle Of Humanity’s Future In Space

Available on bandcamp

More at Dark Photon Studio

Shadowjack has several albums here. The songs are available under Creative Commons licenses. The music is electronic.

First Bloom is part of a multimedia science fiction chronicle of humanity’s expansion throughout the galaxy.

Shane Edward Semler is Shadowjack .

Friday, August 11, 2017

Technological Singularity

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Lime Singularity by David Trowbridge CC-BY-SA

TECHNOLOGICAL SINGULARITY

© 1993 by Vernor Vinge

(This article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes if it is copied in its entirety, including this notice.)

The original version of this article was presented at the VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, March 30-31, 1993. A slightly changed version appeared in the Winter 1993 issue of Whole Earth Review.

1. What Is The Singularity?
The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater-than-human intelligence. Science may achieve this breakthrough by several means (and this is another reason for having confidence that the event will occur):

Computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent may be developed. (To date, there has been much controversy as to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is “yes,” then there is little doubt that more intelligent beings can be constructed shortly thereafter.)

Large computer networks and their associated users may “wake up” as superhumanly intelligent entities.

Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.

Biological science may provide means to improve natural human intellect.

The first three possibilities depend on improvements in computer hardware. Progress in hardware has followed an amazingly steady curve in the last few decades. Based on this trend, I believe that the creation of greater-than-human intelligence will occur during the next thirty years. (Charles Platt has pointed out that AI enthusiasts have been making claims like this for thirty years. Just so I’m not guilty of a relative-time ambiguity, let me be more specific: I’ll be surprised if this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030.)

What are the consequences of this event? When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities — on a still-shorter time scale. The best analogy I see is to the evolutionary past: Animals can adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster than natural selection can do its work — the world acts as its own simulator in the case of natural selection. We humans have the ability to internalize the world and conduct what-if’s in our heads; we can solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection could. Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals.

This change will be a throwing-away of all the human rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye — an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control. Developments that were thought might only happen in “a million years” (if ever) will likely happen in the next century.

It’s fair to call this event a singularity (”the Singularity” for the purposes of this piece). It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules, a point that will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs until the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally happens, it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown. In the 1950s very few saw it: Stan Ulam1 paraphrased John von Neumann as saying:

One conversation centered on the ever-accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.

Von Neumann even uses the term singularity, though it appears he is thinking of normal progress, not the creation of superhuman intellect. (For me, the superhumanity is the essence of the Singularity. Without that we would get a glut of technical riches, never properly absorbed.)

The 1960s saw recognition of some of the implications of superhuman intelligence. I. J. Good2 wrote:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control. . . . It is more probable than not that, within the twentieth century, an ultraintelligent machine will be built and that it will be the last invention that man need make.

Good has captured the essence of the runaway, but he does not pursue its most disturbing consequences. Any intelligent machine of the sort he describes would not be humankind’s “tool” — any more than humans are the tools of rabbits, robins, or chimpanzees.

Through the sixties and seventies and eighties, recognition of the cataclysm spread. Perhaps it was the science-fiction writers who felt the first concrete impact. After all, the “hard” science-fiction writers are the ones who try to write specific stories about all that technology may do for us. More and more, these writers felt an opaque wall across the future. Once, they could put such fantasies millions of years in the future. Now they saw that their most diligent extrapolations resulted in the unknowable . . . soon. Once, galactic empires might have seemed a Posthuman domain. Now, sadly, even interplanetary ones are.

What about the coming decades, as we slide toward the edge? How will the approach of the Singularity spread across the human world view? For a while yet, the general critics of machine sapience will have good press. After all, until we have hardware as powerful as a human brain it is probably foolish to think we’ll be able to create human-equivalent (or greater) intelligence. (There is the farfetched possibility that we could make a human equivalent out of less powerful hardware — if we were willing to give up speed, if we were willing to settle for an artificial being that was literally slow. But it’s much more likely that devising the software will be a tricky process, involving lots of false starts and experimentation. If so, then the arrival of self-aware machines will not happen until after the development of hardware that is substantially more powerful than humans’ natural equipment.)

But as time passes, we should see more symptoms. The dilemma felt by science-fiction writers will be perceived in other creative endeavors. (I have heard thoughtful comicbook writers worry about how to create spectacular effects when everything visible can be produced by the technologically commonplace.) We will see automation replacing higher- and higher-level jobs. We have tools right now (symbolic math programs, cad/cam) that release us from most low-level drudgery. Put another way: the work that is truly productive is the domain of a steadily smaller and more elite fraction of humanity. In the coming of the Singularity, we will see the predictions of true technological unemployment finally come true.

Another symptom of progress toward the Singularity: ideas themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will quickly become commonplace.

And what of the arrival of the Singularity itself? What can be said of its actual appearance? Since it involves an intellectual runaway, it will probably occur faster than any technical revolution seen so far. The precipitating event will likely be unexpected — perhaps even by the researchers involved (”But all our previous models were catatonic! We were just tweaking some parameters . . .”). If networking is widespread enough (into ubiquitous embedded systems), it may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly awakened.

And what happens a month or two (or a day or two) after that? I have only analogies to point to: The rise of humankind. We will be in the Posthuman era. And for all my technological optimism, I think I’d be more comfortable if I were regarding these transcendental events from one thousand years’ remove . . . instead of twenty.

[Read More…]

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Stellardrone - Between The Rings

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Stellardrone - Between The Rings

https://stellardrone … ck/between-the-rings

The tags say it all.

tags: ambient ambient cinematic electronic soundscape space music Lithuania

Note the cinematic.

Here’s the song titles.

1. To The Great Beyond 05:34
2. Breathe In The Light 05:02
3. Rendezvous With Rama 06:13
4. Northern Lights 05:05
5. Between The Rings 05:07

There’s a definite SFF theme going there.

These songs are CC-BY so if you need some music for your Science Fiction movie, here you go.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Elphonium

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Elphonium by INDRIKoff from Deviantart
used with permission

This painting was the inspiration for this story. I saw it on Tumblr and followed the link path to Deviantart. Thanks to INDRIKoff for painting this remarkable image.

Elphonium
by Larry Heyl

The King was bored. The King was restless. Peaceful times were great for his Kingdom. His subjects were happy and hearty. Trade flourished. But the King … was bored.

He thought of calling his musicians with their lyres and flutes but lately all their tunes sounded the same. Even his fool’s raunchy jokes failed to amuse. He would rather saddle his horse and ride.

That’s it. He would ride. A real ride. Just the King, his fool, and his groom. Not a ride to somewhere. Just a ride. He had purpose. A purposeless ride.

The King moved. “Come Fool.”, he bawled, “We ride.”

Somehow the groom already knew. Gossip in the castle travels faster than thought. When the King and his fool arrived at the stables the groom was ready. Three good horses saddled and prancing. They were a sight for sore eyes. The King, his fool, and his groom mounted and rode.

They stepped lightly across the drawbridge and quickly broke into a canter, the King in the lead. He hadn’t gone a quarter mile before he veered off onto a lightly used path into the woods. They slowed and the King let his horse pick the trail. Sometimes the path disappeared but his horse had a sense of direction beyond human abilities. When the trail forked his horse knew which way to go. The fool and the groom followed behind without effort. Their horses followed the King’s horse. The King gave his horse his head.

The forest changed. It was now more open. Lighter. Brighter. The leaves on the trees shimmered. The grass waved in the breeze as if begging to be trod on. The horses slowed to a walk, a slow walk, somehow barely moving. And then they heard the music.

It was like nothing they had ever heard before. A sweet plaintive sound, sometimes like an oboe and sometimes like a flute but always changing. Music without thought, apparently without direction. But somehow it always seemed to get there. The phrases morphing into each other, one after the other, drawing them in.

They came to a clearing and under a pear tree standing alone they saw an elfin princess blowing a horn beyond description. Not a horn with one bell. Not a horn with one sound. Many bells. Each with it’s own sound. And the horn was not separate from the elfin princess. Somehow it grew right out of her. And the music flowed right out of her too. Tumbling through their minds like a river tumbles through the valley.

They dismounted and the groom tended the horses. He didn’t have to tie them. They weren’t going anywhere.

The groom brought a sack of wine from his saddlebags and they all three drank and listened to the music. But they didn’t get drunk. They drank so slowly, sip by sip, the wine enhancing their senses, carrying them deeper and deeper into the music.

Other elves appeared, charming fellows but none as beautiful as the elphin princess. The King noticed other mouthpieces on the horn. Soon the other elves were playing too, each on their own mouthpiece. Each creating countermelodies out of one of the bells.

The music became denser with bass patterns underlying harmonies underlying the ever changing melodies played by the elphin princess. The King, his fool, and his groom stood their entranced. Slowly sipping wine. Captured by the music.

And then the faeries came. A dozen, then a hundred, dancing out of the woods. Soon the King, his fool, and his groom were surrounded by hundreds of faeries dancing naked in the meadow. The fool wanted to make a raunchy joke but his mouth wouldn’t make the sounds. His lips wouldn’t speak.

The sun set. The moon rose. The King joined the dance. The moon, high in the sky, looked down on the three of them dancing with the faeries, thoroughly ensorceled.

And what a night it was dancing naked in the clearing with the faeries. It was better than the hunt. Better than battle. Better than life itself. Just the music, the dancing, the faeries, the elves, the elphin princess, and the horn.

As the moon set the faeries danced off. The wine was finally gone. The music wound down. Softer, slower. And they slept.

They awoke after dawn, under the pear tree, still naked, not another soul in sight. Their horses nickered standing at the edge of the clearing. They dressed. They mounted. They rode.

It seemed like only minutes and they were back at the castle. The King’s subjects shouted “Hurrah! the King is back! Hurrah!”

They were lucky.

Only a year had passed.

The story “Elphonium” by Larry Heyl is CC-BY-SA.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Zero Sum Game by Sl Huang

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Zero Sum Game by SL Huang

This book is CC By-NC-SA.

Hat tip to deejf for turning me on to it at unglue.it

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.

Chapter 1

I trusted one person in the entire world.

He was currently punching me in the face.

Overlapping numbers scuttled across Rio’s fist as it rocketed toward me, their values scrambling madly, the calculations doing themselves before my eyes. He wasn’t pulling his punch at all, the bastard. I saw exactly how it would hit and that the force would fracture my jaw.

Well. If I allowed it to.

Angles and forces. Vector sums. Easy. I pressed myself back against the chair I was tied to, bracing my wrists against the ropes, and tilted my head a hair less than the distance I needed to turn the punch into a love tap. Instead of letting Rio break my jaw, I let him split my lip open.

The impact snapped my head back, and blood poured into my mouth, choking me. I coughed and spat on the cement floor. Goddammit.

“Sixteen men,” said a contemptuous voice in accented English from a few paces in front of me, “against one ugly little girl. How? Who are you?”

“Nineteen,” I corrected, the word hitching as I choked on my own blood. I was already regretting going for the split lip. “Check your perimeter again. I killed nineteen of your men.” And it would have been a lot more if Rio hadn’t appeared out of nowhere and clotheslined me while I was distracted by the Colombians. Fucking son of a bitch. He was the one who’d gotten me this job; why hadn’t he told me he was undercover with the drug cartel?

The Colombian interrogating me inhaled sharply and jerked his head at one of his subordinates, who turned and loped out of the room. The remaining three drug runners stayed where they were, fingering Micro-Uzis with what they plainly thought were intimidating expressions.

Dumbasses. I worked my wrists against the rough cord behind my back—Rio had been the one to tie me up, and he had left me just enough play to squeeze out, if I had half a second. Numbers and vectors shot in all directions—from me, to the Colombian in front of me, to his three lackwit subordinates, to Rio—a sixth sense of mathematical interplay that existed somewhere between sight and feeling, masking the world with constant calculations and threatening to drown me in a sensory overload of data.

And telling me how to kill.

[Read More…]

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thorns

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Photo by Alexey Yakovlev CC BY-SA

Thorns
by Martha Wells
CC BY-NC-ND

Coming down the stairs to dinner, I found the governess engaged in battle with my great great grandnephew. The disgusting little boy was wrestling with the poor woman, apparently trying to thrust her over the bannister.

“An application of the birch rod would settle that, Miss,” I said.

“I would dearly love to, Madame,” the governess answered, breathless and more sharply than her wont. Perhaps the struggle to preserve her life — we were on the third landing, and the stone-flagged floor of the Hall was far below — had overcome her usual reticence. “But I’ve been instructed to use only modern methods of disciplining the children… ”

The unruly creature’s mother, my great grand-niece Electra, was hurrying up the stairs toward them, her satin skirts rustling like storm wind. She dithered near the struggle, waving her plump soft hands. “Oh, Malcolm, you mustn’t treat Miss Grey so!”

I smiled grimly. Modern ideas. Such notions had succeeded in making the already over-indulged children a terror to the servants and the rest of the household. But Electra has always had a soft heart.

The boy obligingly released his governess, and with a triumphant grin stooped to seize her workbag which had fallen to the carpet. I had no doubt he meant to thrust it over the bannister in her place. I lost patience, and seized the creature by the ear. He desisted with an alarmed shriek — I’m old, but my fingers are strong. It was an effort not to squeeze too hard. We have cousins who are maddened by the scent of a child’s blood in the air, or the sight of the dew of perspiration on a downy cheek. It makes them inconvenient guests at family gatherings. Of course, one can’t eat one’s own great grandnephews, however deliberate the provocation.

Electra simpered and said, “Oh, dear, Malcolm, you must learn not to be naughty. Naughty boys die and are sent to Hell.”

“Some more precipitously than others,” I added, thinking of the deep well at the bottom of the garden.

Taking my action as tacit permission to apply mild force, the governess seized the creature’s other ear as I released my grip, and herded her charge up the stairs.

We continued down, Electra fluttering at my side. “Auntie, you know Malcolm is really a little dear… ”

“I know nothing of the kind.” Electra is a small woman, for our family, her wispy blond head reaching only to my shoulder. Her figure is plump, and requires a corset to keep its shape, and her eyes are mild and her face cherubic. An odd pair we would seem to outsiders’ eyes, for I am grown thin and cadaverous with the long passage of years, and my features were always rather sharp.

“Now, Auntie… ”

We reached the landing above the Hall. Below, Electra’s husband, Mr. John Dearing, was personally receiving a guest, a young man in the act of handing his greatcoat to the butler.

There were no guests expected, and just before the dinner hour is not considered an appropriate time for casual calls, yet Dearing was greeting this presumptuous fellow as a prodigal son.

He was a striking figure. (The guest, I mean. Dearing is a stout bewhiskered muskrat of a man, a fit mate for Electra.) Blond curls, broad shoulders, a chiseled profile. I felt a feather of unease travel down my spine; old instincts rousing, perhaps. His garments, though somewhat the worse for travel at this rainy time of year, were of fashionable cut and fine cloth.

Frowning, Electra caught the attention of one of the footmen stationed at the bottom of the stairs, and called him up to her to ask, “Why, William, whoever is that?”

“Madame, they say it’s a foreign Duke, the son of the King of Armantia.”

“I see,” Electra dismissed the man and looked to me, her mild dove eyes vaguely troubled. “Oh, dear. A prince.”

“It has been a long time,” I said. But I’ve dealt with such before.

[Read More…]

Monday, November 21, 2016

Snake Eyes

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Image from Pixabay, public domain.

Snake Eyes by Tom Maddox
Published: 1996

This work is released under a Creative Commons License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/1.0/

Dark meat in the can—brown, oily, and flecked with mucus—gave off a repellent, fishy smell, and the taste of it rose in his throat, putrid and bitter, like something from a dead man’s stomach. George Jordan sat on the kitchen floor and vomited, then pushed himself away from the shining pool, which looked very much like what remained in the can.

He thought, No, this won’t do: I have wires in my head, and they make me eat cat food. The snake likes cat food

He needed help but know there was little point in calling the Air Force. He’d tried them, and there was no way they were going to admit responsibility for the monster in his head. What George called the snake, the Air Force called Effective Human Interface Technology and didn’t want to hear about any postdischarge problems with it. They had their own problems with congressional committees investigating “the conduct of the war in Thailand.”

He lay for a while with his cheek on the cold linoleum, got up and rinsed his mouth in the sink, then stuck his head under the faucet and ran cold water over it, thinking, Call the goddamned multicomp, then call SenTrax and say, “Is it true you can do something about this incubus that wants to take possession of my soul?” And if they ask you, “What’s your problem?” you say “cat food,” and maybe they’ll say, “Hell, it just wants to take possession of your lunch”

A chair covered in brown corduroy stood in the middle of the barren living room, a white telephone on the floor beside it, a television flat against the opposite wall—that was the whole thing, what might have been home, if it weren’t for the snake.

He picked up the phone, called up the directory on its screen, and keyed TELECOM SENTRAX.

The Orlando Holiday Inn stood next to the airport terminal, where tourists flowed in eager for the delights of Disney World. But for me, George thought, there are no cute, smiling ducks and rodents. Here as everywhere, it’s Snake city

From the window of his motel room, he watched gray sheets of rain cascade across the pavement. He had been waiting two days for a launch. At Canaveral a shuttle sat on its pad, and when the weather cleared, a helicopter would pick him up and drop him there, a package for delivery to SenTrax, Inc., at Athena Station, over thirty thousand kilometers above the equator

Behind him, under the laser light of a Blaupunkt holostage, people a foot high chattered about the war in Thailand and how lucky the United States had been to escape another Vietnam.

Lucky? Maybe … he had been wired up and ready for combat training, already accustomed to the form-fitting contours in the rear couch of the black, tiber-bodied General Dynamics A-230. The A-230 flew on the deadly edge of instability, every control surface monitored by its own bank of micro-computers, all hooked into the snakebrain flight-and-tire assistant with the twin black miloprene cables running from either side of his esophagus—getting off, oh yes, when the cables snapped home, and the airframe resonated through his nerves, his body singing with that identity, that power.

Then Congress pulled the plug on the war, the Air Force pulled the plug on George, and when his discharge came, there he was, left with technological blue balls and this hardware in his head that had since taken on a life of its own.

Lightning walked across the purpled sky, ripping it, crazing it into a giant, upturned bowl of shattered glass. Another foot-high man on the hostage said the tropical storm would pass in the next two hours.

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Hamilton Innis was tall and heavy—six four and about two hundred and fifty pounds. Wearing a powder-blue jump-suit with SENTRY in red letters down its left breast, and soft black slippers, he floated in a brightly lit white corridor, held gingerly to a wall by one of the jumpsuit’s Velcro patches. A view-screen above the airlock entry showed the shuttle fitting its nose into the docking tube. He waited for it to mate to the airlock hatches and send in the newest candidate.

This one was six months out of the service and slowly losing what the Air Force doctors had made of his mind. Former tech sergeant George Jordan—two years’ community college in Oakland, California, followed by enlistment in the Air Force, aircrew training, the WHIT program. According to the profile Aleph had put together from Air Force records and the National Data Bank, a man with slightly above-average aptitudes and intelligence, a distinctly above-average taste for the bizarre—thus his volunteering for WHIT and combat. In his file pictures, he looked nondescript—five ten, a hundred and seventy-six pounds, brown hair and eyes, neither handsome nor ugly. But it was an old picture and could not show the snake and the fear that came with it. You don’f know it, buddy, Innis thought, but you sin’t seen nothing yet.

The man came tumbling through the hatch, more or less helpless in free fall, but Innis could see him figuring it out, willing the muscles to quit struggling, quit trying to cope with a gravity that simply wans’t there. “What the hell do I do now?” George Jordan asked, hanging in midair, one arm holding on to the hatch coaming.

“Relax. I’ll get you.” Innis pushed off and swooped across, grabbing the man as he passed, taking them both to the opposite wall and kicking to carom them outward.

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[Read More…]

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Another Afternoon in the Garden

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Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Another Afternoon in the Garden

by Ingrid Steblea - CC BY-NC-SA

“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” –Genesis 2:19
 
Adam grips the tool loosely in his left hand, poking at the dirt.

He cocks his head and studies it, backing away, brow
furrowed. “Trowel,” he says. Then, “Spade.” Eve watches
from the quince grove where she has just finished grafting
the shoots of a new cultivar onto rootstock. Hands full,
she scratches an itch, rubbing her forehead against tree bark.
It has been a long day. She rose before dawn. While Adam slept
beneath the fragrant frangipani, she checked the stakes
of the fruit trees, the branches for signs of canker.
She made the morning meal. He pushes figs into his mouth
with his thumbs, his jaw working like one of the cows
in the cornfields, muttering, “Chew, chew, chew.
Munch, crunch. Masticate, ruminate. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.”
 
After washing the bowls she nicked and notched
the espaliered pear. She watered and mulched the scarlet
runner beans and weeded the amaranth beds. She cannot
remember what color her hands are when they are clean.
Her hair bristles with twigs. She reeks of sweat and labor.
Adam’s soft hands smell of the rosewater she brews
each full moon. Clutching the chisel, the knife, the lopping
shear, she prowls for something else in need of tending.
The grass is thick beneath her feet. Bushes droop
with heavy blossoms. If she knows Adam,
it will take him all afternoon to collect the flowers
for the evening table, whispering, “Efflorescence,
inflorescence. Umbel, panicle, cyme.”
 
The garden spreads before her, green groves, florid
floral profusions, the golden fields and the meadow beyond.
An eternity of weeds to wrench from the earth,
a damnation of black flies and gnats. Day after day,
bending and stooping, the ache in her back like a curse.
 
He drops the spade and the dandelions he plucked
and ambles over to the tree. That tree. The one he cannot name.
He cannot name it if he cannot touch it, he whines; cannot taste it.
“How about persimmon,” she urges him. “No . . .” he sighs.
“How about bittersweet, then? Chokecherry? Kill-a-man?”
“No, no,” he groans, braiding daisies into his hair. “That’s not it, not it.”
She rolls her eyes, heaves herself to her feet
and leaves to dig the irrigation trenches for the banana trees.

He rolls over in the deep grass nap, mumbling, “Arduous. Onerous. Hard, hard work.”
 
If only she were not utterly alone here. If only there was another like her.
Is it too much to ask that he show some initiative? Is it too much to ask
that he pull his own weight, wash a bowl, get his hands dirty? Behind her,
Adam calls her name. She turns on her heel, thrusts the shovel’s blade into the soil. “What now?” she says.
He scrunches his nose the way he does when he is thinking, or smells rotting fruit.
“Did you hear that?”
 
She looks to the branches where she heard the hiss,
catches a flash of copper scale, a flicker of pink tongue.
Adam scratches his chin. “Unknown,” he offers.
“A mystery. Crisis! Opportunity.”

From LCRW 12-33 on the Small Beer Press Creative Commons page.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Most Of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water

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Public Domain illustration from Pixabay. Thanks werner22brigitte.

MOST OF MY FRIENDS ARE TWO-THIRDS WATER

by Kelly Link

“Okay, Joe. As I was saying, our Martian women are gonna be blond, because, see, just because.” -RAY BRADBURY, “The Concrete Mixer”

A few years ago, Jack dropped the C from his name and became Jak. He called me up at breakfast one morning to tell me this. He said he was frying bacon for breakfast and that all his roommates were away. He said that he was walking around stark naked. He could have been telling the truth, I don’t know. I could hear something spitting and hissing in the background that could have been bacon, or maybe it was just static on the line.

Jak keeps a journal in which he records the dreams he has about making love to his ex-girlfriend Nikki, who looks like Sandy Duncan. Nikki is now married to someone else. In the most recent dream, Jak says, Nikki had a wooden leg. Sandy Duncan has a glass eye in real life. Jak calls me up to tell me this dream.

He calls to say that he is in love with the woman who does the Braun coffee-maker commercial, the one with the short blond hair, like Nikki, and eyes that are dreamy and a little too far apart. He can’t tell from the commercial if she has a wooden leg, but he watches TV every night, in the hopes of seeing her again.

If I were blond, I could fall in love with Jak.

Jak calls me with the first line of a story. Most of my friends are two-thirds water, he says, and I say that this doesn’t surprise me. He says, no, that this is the first line. There’s a Philip K. Dick novel, I tell him, that has a first line like that, but not exactly and I can’t remember the name of the novel. I am listening to him while I clean out my father’s refrigerator. The name of the Philip K. Dick novel is Confessions of a Crap Artist, I tell Jak. What novel, he says.

He says that he followed a woman home from the subway, accidentally. He says that he was sitting across from her on the Number 1 uptown and he smiled at her. This is a bad thing to do in New York when there isn’t anyone else in the subway car, traveling uptown past 116th Street, when it’s one o’clock in the morning, even when you’re Asian and not much taller than she is, even when she made eye contact first, which is what Jak says she did. Anyway he smiled and she looked away. She got off at the next stop, 125th, and so did he. 125th is his stop. She looked back and when she saw him, her face changed and she began to walk faster.

Was she blond, I ask, casually. I don’t remember, Jak says. They came up onto Broadway, Jak just a little behind her, and then she looked back at him and crossed over to the east side. He stayed on the west side so she wouldn’t think he was following her. She walked fast. He dawdled. She was about a block ahead when he saw her cross at La Salle, towards him, towards Claremont and Riverside, where Jak lives on the fifth floor of a rundown brownstone. I used to live in this building before I left school. Now I live in my father’s garage. The woman on Broadway looked back and saw that Jak was still following her. She walked faster. He says he walked even more slowly.

By the time he came to the corner market on Riverside, the one that stays open all night long, he couldn’t see her. So he bought a pint of ice cream and some toilet paper. She was in front of him at the counter, paying for a carton of skim milk and a box of dish detergent. When she saw him, he thought she was going to say something to the cashier but instead she picked up her change and hurried out of the store.

Jak says that the lights on Claremont are always a little dim and fizzy, and sounds are muffled, as if the street is under water. In the summer, the air is heavier and darker at night, like water on your skin. I say that I remember that. He says that up ahead of him, the woman was flickering under the street light like a light bulb. What do you mean, like a light bulb? I ask. I can hear him shrug over the phone. She flickered, he says. I mean like a light bulb. He says that she would turn back to look at him, and then look away again. Her face was pale. It flickered.

By this point, he says, he wasn’t embarrassed. He wasn’t worried anymore. He felt almost as if they knew each other. It might have been a game they were playing. He says that he wasn’t surprised when she stopped in front of his building and let herself in. She slammed the security door behind her and stood for a moment, glaring at him through the glass. She looked exactly the way Nikki looked, he says, when Nikki was still going out with him, when she was angry at him for being late or for misunderstanding something. The woman behind the glass pressed her lips together and glared at Jak.

He says when he took his key out of his pocket, she turned and ran up the stairs. She went up the first flight of stairs and then he couldn’t see her anymore. He went inside and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor, when he was getting out, he says that the woman who looked like Nikki was slamming shut the door of the apartment directly across from his apartment. He heard the chain slide across the latch.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Valley of Giants

treebeard.jpg
TREEBEARD by TTThom, licensed under three free culture licenses

The Valley of Giants by Benjamin Rosenbaum
from “The Ant King and Other Stories” CC BY-NC-SA

I had buried my parents in their gray marble mausoleum at the heart of the city. I had buried my husband in a lead box sunk into the mud of the bottom of the river, where all the riverboatmen lie. And after the war, I had buried my children, all four, in white linen shrouds in the new graveyards plowed into what used to be our farmland: all the land stretching from the river delta to the hills.

I had one granddaughter who survived the war. I saw her sometimes: in a bright pink dress, a sparkling drink in her hand, on the arm of some foreign officer with brocade on his shoulders, at the edge of a marble patio. She never looked back at me—poverty and failure and political disrepute being all, these days, contagious and synonymous.

The young were mostly dead, and the old men had been taken away, they told us, to learn important new things and to come back when they were ready to contribute fully. So it was a city of grandmothers. And it was in a grandmother bar by the waterfront—sipping hot tea with rum and watching over the shoulders of dockworkers playing mah-jongg—that I first heard of the valley of giants.

We all laughed at the idea, except for a chemist with a crooked nose and rouge caked in the creases of her face, who was incensed. “We live in the modern era!” she cried. “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

The traveler stood up from the table. She was bony and rough-skinned and bent like an old crow, with a blue silk scarf and hanks of hair as black as soot. Her eyes were veined with red.

“Nonetheless,” the traveler said, and she walked out.

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

I’ve Got The Music In Me

pwning_tomorrow.png
The EFF organized this anthology of sf short stories about the electronic frontier.
All stories are licensed with Creative Commons licenses.
“I’ve Got The Music In Me” is CC BY.
Download “Pwning Tomorrow” from the Internet Archive.

I’ve Got The Music In Me

by Charlie Jane Anders

“Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head, and couldn’t get it out?” The woman asking the question wore one of those new frogskin one-pieces, with false eyelashes that looked fiberoptic. She leaned on the bar in my direction.

I shrugged and drank. “Maybe, I don’t know.” I was busy obsessing about my sick dog. Moxie was my best friend, but they’d said the tests alone would cost hundreds, with no guarantee.

The woman, Mia I think, kept talking about brains that wouldn’t let go of songs. “You know how a song loops around and drowns out everything else in your skull?” I nodded, and she smiled. “Sometimes it’s like a message from your subconscious. Your brain blasts sad lyrics to wake you to a submerged depression.”

“I guess.”

“Or you could be overworked. Or sexually frustrated. It’s like an early warning system.” She beckoned another drink. The mention of sex jumped out of her wordflow like a spawning salmon. I forgot all about my dog, turned to face her.

“I see what you mean,” I said.

“They’re funny, songs. They drill into your head and form associations.” She batted those shiny lashes. “They trigger memories, just the way smells do.”

“You’re absolutely right.” I was thinking, do I have condoms?

She asked me about my past loves, and whether there were pieces of music that came unbidden to mind when I thought of them. I struggled to dredge up a memory to please this woman, her taut body so close to mine I could feel the coolness of the tiny frogs whose hides she wore.

“Yeah, now that I think about it, there was this one song…”

From Section 1923, Mental copyright enforcement field manual.
Subsection 1, Probable Cause:

Do not bring in suspects without an ironclad case, and avoid any appearance of entrapment. Do not apprehend someone merely because he/she whistles under his/her breath or bobs his/her head to music nobody else can hear. To demonstrate that someone has stored copyrighted music in his/her brain in violation of the Cranial Millenium Copyright Act, you must obtain a definitive statement, such as:

• 1) “Whenever I see the object of my smothered desire I hear “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream in my head. This is the full album version, complete with trademark guitar solo and clearly articulated rhythm track.”
• 2) “I always tune out my boss when he talks to me, and instead conjure up a near-digital-quality playback of “Bring Tha Bling Bling” by Pimpstyle in my mind. The remix with that Madonna sample.”
• 3) “Following the death of my loved one, I listened to the Parade album by Prince so many times I know the whole thing by heart now.”

Note: the above examples are illustrative and not all-encompassing. Other utterances also could prove the suspect is guilty of keeping protected music in Cranial Audio File format, as prohibited by law.
Subsection 2, Apprehending the suspect:

As soon as I admitted that yeah, that “Pimp Your Bubba” song wouldn’t stop infesting my mind no matter how much good music I fed my ears, the woman went violent. She pulled out a badge and twisted my arm behind me. Steel cinched my wrists, turned me into a perp. “You have the right,” she said.

In her car, she talked to me through a rusty mesh cordoning the back seat. “I’d put on the radio, but you might steal again.”

“What have I done?”

“Don’t pretend. Your mental piracy is blatantly illegal.”

“But everyone said that law was unenforceable—”

“I got your confession right here on tape. And we’ll get more out of you. The brain’s a computer, and yours is jam-packed with stolen goods.”

I was terrified. I could be held for days. What would happen to Moxie?

“Take my advice, kid.” We turned onto a driveway with a guard post and tilting arm. The woman showed a card and the arm rose. “Just relax and tell them everything. It’ll be fun, like a personal tour through your musical memories. Like getting stoned with a friend and digging some tunes. Then you just plea bargain and skip outta here.”

Subsection 3, Questioning the suspect:

Ask questions like:

• What sort of music did you listen to in high school?
• Here is a piece of your clothing which we confiscated. We’ll give it back if you tell us what song it brings to mind.
• I can see you’re angry. Is there an angry song in your thoughts?
• Complete this guitar riff for me. Na na na NAH na na…

I kept asking over and over, whom have I hurt? Who suffers if I have recall of maybe a hundred songs? They had answers—the record companies, the musicians, the media, all suffered from my self-reliance. I didn’t buy it.
“This whole thing is bullshit,” I said.

The two guys in shades looked at each other. “Guy’s got a right to face his accuser,” one said.

“You figure it’s time to bring in the injured party?” the other said.

They both nodded. They took their gray-suited selves out of the interrogation cube. I squirmed in my chair, arms manacled and head in a vice.

They were gone for hours. I tried to relax, but the restraints kinked my circulation.
I heard noises outside the door. A scrawny guy with a fuschia pompadour and sideburns wandered in. He wore a t-shirt with a picture of himself, which made him easier to recognize because I’d seen that picture a million times.

“You’re Dude Boy,” I said.

“Pizzeace,” said Dude Boy. “You been ripping me off.”

“No I haven’t.” I fidgeted in bondage. “I don’t even like you.” I remembered when Dude Boy was on the cover of every magazine from Teen Beat to Rolling Stone, and that fucking song was on the air every minute. “Your song sucked aardvark tit. They played it so often I started hearing it when I brushed my teeth, which really—” Oh. Shit.

“See? You admit it. Thief.”

“But—”

“And you never bought a copy, ya?”

“Yeah, but—It sucked, man.”

“It was just so catchy and hooky, ya? You had to have it, Mr. Sticky Fingers.”

“Catchy’s one word for it. You could also try, ‘annoyingly repetitive.’ How many times can you say ‘You’re So Cute I Wanna Puke’ in one song?”

“That’s the hook, bo.”

“So I always wondered what happened to you after that one hit. You dropped out of sight.”

The agate eyes I remembered from VH1 came close. “You killed my career, bo. You and all the others who used my song for your skull soundtracks until you got sick of me. I didn’t ask to have my creation overexposed in your noggin. It’s all your fault.”

“So now you’re working for these creeps?”

“It’s a job until reality TV calls.”
He kept staring. He’d always looked goofy, but never before scary. “We’re like intimate, ya know. I seduced ya with my hookitude, and in return you copped a feel of the DB while I slept. It’s good to be close at last.” For a moment I feared he’d kiss me. I tried to turn away, but no dice.

Then at the last second he whipped around and kicked the wall. “You kidnapped my baby!” He turned back. Spit painted my cheeks. “So here’s the deal. We take this thang to court, I nail your colon to the wall. Or you cop a plea. Small fine, plus an implant. You get off lightly, bo.”

“Implant?”

“Yes or no?

“What implant?

“Last chance. Yes or no?”

Most of the time, the implant doesn’t bother me. If I get emotional, like when I buried Moxie, it kicks in just as a tune swells inside me. Then instead of the music, I hear Dude Boy screaming, “Thief!” for like thirty seconds. It really screwed me up this one time I was giving a presentation at work. I was one of the first to get implanted, but now they’re everywhere. It’s become such a cultural phenom that a new hit song samples the sound the implant makes. They had to pay Dude Boy royalties, of course.

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, a novel coming in early 2016 from Tor Books. She is the editor in chief of io9.com and the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette Six Months, Three Days won a Hugo award.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

special_delivery_on_bird_island.jpg
Special Delivery On Bird Island By Zach Rudisin - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

CARNATION, LILY, LILY, ROSE
by Kelly Link CC-BY-NC-SA

Dear Mary (if that is your name),
I bet you’ll be pretty surprised to hear from me. It really is me, by the way, although I have to confess at the moment that not only can I not seem to keep your name straight in my head, Laura? Susie? Odile? but I seem to have forgotten my own name. I plan to keep trying different combinations: Joe loves Lola, Willy loves Suki, Henry loves you, sweetie, Georgia?, honeypie, darling. Do any of these seem right to you?

All last week I felt like something was going to happen, a sort of bees and ants feeling. Something was going to happen. I taught my classes and came home and went to bed, all week waiting for the thing that was going to happen, and then on Friday I died.

One of the things I seem to have misplaced is how, or maybe I mean why. It’s like the names. I know that we lived together in a house on a hill in a small comfortable city for nine years, that we didn’t have kids-except once, almost-and that you’re a terrible cook, oh my darling, Coraline? Coralee? and so was I, and we ate out whenever we could afford to. I taught at a good university, Princeton? Berkeley? Notre Dame? I was a good teacher, and my students liked me. But I can’t remember the name of the street we lived on, or the author of the last book I read, or your last name which was also my name, or how I died. It’s funny, Sarah? but the only two names I know for sure are real are Looly Bellows, the girl who beat me up in fourth grade, and your cat’s name. I’m not going to put your cat’s name down on paper just yet.

We were going to name the baby Beatrice. I just remembered that. We were going to name her after your aunt, the one that doesn’t like me. Didn’t like me. Did she come to the funeral?

I’ve been here for three days, and I’m trying to pretend that it’s just a vacation, like when we went to that island in that country. Santorini? Great Britain? The one with all the cliffs. The one with the hotel with the bunkbeds, and little squares of pink toilet paper, like handkerchiefs. It had seashells in the window too, didn’t it, that were transparent like bottle glass? They smelled like bleach? It was a very nice island. No trees. You said that when you died, you hoped heaven would be an island like that. And now I’m dead, and here I am.

This is an island too, I think. There is a beach, and down on the beach is a mailbox where I am going to post this letter. Other than the beach, the mailbox, there is the building in which I sit and write this letter. It seems to be a perfectly pleasant resort hotel with no other guests, no receptionist, no host, no events coordinator, no bell-boy. Just me. There is a television set, very old-fashioned, in the hotel lobby. I fiddled the antenna for a long time, but never got a picture. Just static. I tried to make images, people out of the static. It looked like they were waving at me.

My room is on the second floor. It has a sea view. All the rooms here have views of the sea. There is a desk in my room, and a good supply of plain, waxy white paper and envelopes in one of the drawers. Laurel? Maria? Gertrude?

I haven’t gone out of sight of the hotel yet, Lucille? because I am afraid that it might not be there when I get back.

Yours truly,
You know who.

The dead man lies on his back on the hotel bed, his hands busy and curious, stroking his body up and down as if it didn’t really belong to him at all. One hand cups his testicles, the other tugs hard at his erect penis. His heels push against the mattress and his eyes are open, and his mouth. He is trying to say someone’s name.

Outside, the sky seems much too close, made out of some grey stuff that only grudgingly allows light through. The dead man has noticed that it never gets any lighter or darker, but sometimes the air begins to feel heavier, and then stuff falls out of the sky, fist-sized lumps of whitish-grey doughy matter. It falls until the beach is covered, and immediately begins to dissolve. The dead man was outside, the first time the sky fell. Now he waits inside until the beach is clear again. Sometimes he watches television, although the reception is poor.

The sea goes up and back the beach, sucking and curling around the mailbox at high tide. There is something about it that the dead man doesn’t like much. It doesn’t smell like salt the way a sea should. Cara? Jasmine? It smells like wet upholstery, burnt fur.
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